Frank (Anthony LaPaglia) is a middle-aged real estate agent who is in trouble. He is reeling from the death of his mother a year ago. His marriage is in tatters. And he has no motivation whatsoever to sell houses. His boss and friend, Philip (John Clarke) can see Frank is going through some emotionally tough territory, but he makes it clear that it is time he shaped up.
Then, out of the blue, Frank receives a phone call. At first, he thinks he is talking to his dead mother, although clearly that is impossible. He discovers he has been called in error, by Sarah (Julia Blake), a retired librarian in her 70s. The resemblance of her voice to his late mother’s catches him off guard. Frank is a damaged man and something about this misconnected call makes him track down Sarah. He wants to talk to her, but to what end?
A MONTH OF SUNDAYS is a drama with numerous comedic strands. Frank is emotionally disconnected from his family and the chance encounter with Sarah sets him thinking about what he can do to improve his circumstances. His ex-wife Wendy (Justine Clarke) wants him to find a partner and move on. She is an actor in a TV medical drama. Frank believes her recent success was one of the factors in their divorce. He isn’t sure how to relate to his teenage son since the break up. In a sense, he is stuck without a way forward. His method of dealing with his situation is black humour and alcohol, but he knows he is delaying an inevitable crash.
In another type of movie, Frank might meet a life-affirming woman whom he would fall for. Writer/director Matthew Saville has made the unusual choice of having a middle-aged man, seeking out a mother figure by accident. Both he and Sarah are vaguely aware this is happening and both are somewhat embarrassed by the circumstances they find themselves in. Sarah has a middle-aged son already and hardly needs to take responsibility for a complete stranger. This is one of the themes of the film. What responsibilities do we have for our loved ones? And what responsibility, if any, do we have for strangers?
A middle-aged man finding himself, will not be everyone’s idea of a good time at the cinema, but I will argue for this character’s particular story because for once, our protagonist isn’t a man-child. Although Frank isn’t dealing with his problems head-on, he is recognisable as an adult who has some serious life issues to get sorted. Which sounds terribly serious, however the movie is mostly handled with a light touch. Audiences for this picture should be prepared to let it unfold. We are observers watching small things happen at a pace that mimics life.
The cast is solid. Julia Blake is playing a wise elder, but she is the sort of woman we might recognise from our own family. Meaning she has wisdom, yet is not movie-magical. She is unassuming, curious and the most grounded character in the story. Bringing in John Clarke for comedic purposes is always a good idea. He portrays Philip as somewhat egocentric, flippant and financially hard-nosed. His observations about Frank are spot on and delivered with the signature Clarke-ian deadpan.
LaPaglia is the core of the movie. His performance as a man who feels he is disappearing is made up of many quiet moments where we can sense his frustration and grief. Whether you connect with this film will have something to do with whether you recognise this lost man. LaPaglia tends to choose roles that are unflashy and understated. Frank is his best work on-screen since BALIBO (2009).
A MONTH OF SUNDAYS is in Australian cinemas now. It runs for 109 minutes. (6/10)
CLICK: The transcript of our A MONTH OF SUNDAYS interview with Matthew Saville.